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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Zing, Oomph and Uh-Oh

Unfortunately, I was one of the masses who was unable to return to the Northeast on a timely basis because of last weekend's snowstorm. As a result, I didn't get to post my pre-game analysis of last night's Penn-Princeton game. Suffice it to say that the outcome did not surprise me.

Penn 60
Princeton 41.

Penn went into the game 6-0 in the Ivies, having won every game by double digits. Princeton went into the game a surprising second, having shown some newly found grit in the Ivy season after foundering badly in the pre-season, going 2-11. It's late at night and my patience for linking to my prior posts is thin, but one of you faithfully e-mailed me to chide me about describing Princeton as a freight train gathering steam.

Okay, so I got a bit carried away, but even in that post I wrote that perhaps the Tigers weren't a freight train but perhaps a milk train on steroids. If that were the case, then Penn is a nuclear-powered bullet train that totally outclasses the rest of the Ivies. The Quakers most certainly showed that last night.

There are, though, some hard truths about the Ivies:

1. The Ivies are at a low tide, their lowest in years, perhaps ever. Penn is the best team in the league, by far, but the rest of the Ivies are not very good. Before the season, there were high hopes for Harvard, Cornell and even Columbia, but none of those schools has honored the faith some pre-season prognosticators had in them.

2. This team is perhaps the worst of Fran Dunphy's title teams. Now, before Penn fans get upset, you must remember that this team isn't as good as a) the Jerome Allen/Matt Maloney teams, b) the Michael Jordan/Matt Langel teams or c) the Ugonna Onyekwe/Andy Toole/Koko Archibong teams, or, for that matter, last year's Tim Begley-led team, if for no other reason than David Whitehurst is not Tim Begley. And, as good I think a coaching job Fran Dunphy did last year, he is doing as good a job this year. Again, his teams lack the true point guard that Dunphy loves, but he's figured out a way to win without that guard. And without Tim Begley, last year's Player of the Year and a very gifted hoopster.

3. There was a good article by Mike Sielski in this morning's "Bucks County Courier Times" about Dunphy's mastery, and Dunphy is simply a class act. The Penn fans are great, particularly at a Princeton game, but the cheers that end with "You Suck" have got to go (even if, as Sielski pointed out, the comments are not always inaccurate). Dunphy, to his credit, said that he hates that cheer, and not every coach would chide his own fans for bad taste. That cheer dishonors the outstanding Penn hoops tradition, and if it's uttered in Princeton, it does the same thing there. (As an aside, a couple of years ago I took my then four year-old son to his first baseball game at Citizens Bank Park, where the bullpens are tiered in centerfield, with the visitors' bullpen sitting atop the home team's. Fans can congregate in that area, called "Ashburn Alley", and they were wont to heckle the opposing relief corps. I joked that I had to tell my son that "U Suk" was the name of the Korean reliver for the Houston Astros that day.).

4. Princeton's recruits should salivate at the potential for playing time if they bust their guts for Joe Scott next year. The team looked out of balance, needs a true center, a shooting guard and will need a PG after Scott Greenman graduates this season. They started four forwards and a PG last night, and the forward who played center, Justin Conway, is 6'4" and very limited on offense. While Conway has gotten rewarded for his outstanding play in practice, Penn didn't guard him from outside on defense, thereby creating a 5 on 4 situation for a good part of the night. That made it very difficult for Princeton's shooters to get open.

5. Penn will win the Ivies next year, too, because they lose only PG Eric Osmundsen and seventh man Friedrich Ebede, have a solid corps of frosh waiting in the wings and have some good incoming recruits as well. No other team should come close.

6. Will another school give Fran Dunphy his chance at the bigger time? He turned down Penn State a few years ago and was a runner up for jobs at Ohio State and Georgetown. It's clear that he'd be interested to scratch that "what if" itch, even if he's the dean of Ivy coaches and, if he coaches into his 70's, could eclipse Pete Carril's mark for career wins. The only way other Ivies can mount a challenge more quickly than a few years down the road would be if Dunphy were to leave after this season. I'd book the odds as one in five that he opts for another school.

7. I haven't read any bracketology predictions, but I would surmise that Penn will be a #14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I don't think that they have the size or pure shooting ability to beat a #3 seed, and the Ivies haven't won a game in the tournament in almost 10 years. I don't think that streak will end this season.

8. Ibby Jaaber of Penn clearly is the Ivies' Player of the Year. The junior guard is the Quakers' catalyst. He's not particularly a great shooter, but he has an outstanding first step and is head and shoulders a better athlete than the next contender for that honor. He is an outstanding defender.

9. Zing and oomph weren't present for the Tigers last night. Give the Penn Quakers credit for disrupting the Tigers' at both ends of the floor. Give the Tigers some demerits for failing to get into a rhythm and for failing to execute their game plan. Tiger fans are now reducing themselves to applauding the effort, but it's hard to get that excited when your favorite team had 5 assists to 17 turnovers. That stat, in and of itself, suggests that the game wasn't as close as the 60-41 final score.

10. Missing in action for the Tigers is soph center Harrison Schaen. Two years ago the Tigers won the Ivies because coach John Thompson figured out a way to put Schaen in games, particularly in the second half. Schaen sat at the back of a 3-2 zone, intimdated anyone who would try to penetrate, blocked shots and controlled the boards. He might not have put up great numbers, but he changed the game. This year he's missing in action. That fact perplexes Princeton fans, who remember fondly the potential Schaen showed a few years ago.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is indeed sad that a small number of fans-- whether at the Palestra or Jadwin-- can managed to taint what would otherwise be a remarkable college rivalry.
Dunphy is a class act and a great coach. Those fans-- and I don't mean everyone in Blue and Red-- need to find a Monster Truck rally and let the rest of us appreciate good basketball.

11:27 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

It is a shame, but I disagree about there being a small number. It struck me from watching on TV that the "You Suck" chant was pretty loud and was chanted by a majority of the Penn students who were there. To a degree it's sophomoric fun, but those kids are better than that, and they should know better.

For what it's worth, that cheer isn't worthy of any fans, so if it's done by Princeton fans or Duke fans, it's lamentable and detracts from a night of spirited rivalry.

3:10 PM  

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